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Units on campus may articulate guidelines and principles for many things.  However, that may not be the case for managing and resolving conflict situations, even though we know that conflict is a part of any organization.  Taking some time to consider a collaborative and principled response to challenging conflict situations can contribute to a healthy and inclusive climate for all, even under trying circumstances. 

Consider these principles as a starting point for collaborative conflict resolution:

Early, Intentional Coordination and Consultation
When a complex conflict has emerged or a conflict appears to have the potential of impacting a unit’s climate, early intervention in an informed way can help ensure that best practices can ensue.  Convening a key group early on becomes a critical step in managing these situations and determining roles most effectively.  Early consultation may provide the best opportunity for resolving conflict through less formal processes, preserving resolution pathways that can be more inclusive, educational and collaborative in nature.   Best practices may include:

  • Convening a large and diverse-enough group to allow colleagues to consider a situation more fully, not merely from an individual or isolated perspective.
  • Understanding that an incident’s “point of entry” may impact who is involved in resolving the conflict, and how it gets resolved.  Especially in complex situations, it is important to notice and evaluate whether others not yet involved need to be invited to the table.
  • Leaders and stakeholders always asking: who and what is missing?  Effective conflict resolution acknowledges that the “first story” is not the only story.

Establishing Clear Roles and Respecting Professional Boundaries
Effective resolution of complex conflicts often involves various individuals attending to different aspects of a situation.  Key to success is establishing clear roles and respecting boundaries.  Keep in mind that:

  • Diagnosing and fully understanding a complex situation is often a moving target.  Responsibilities and roles may be fluid and change over time.
  • Clear role identification encourages the broadest inclusion, ensuring the involvement of those whose voices and expertise may sometimes be overlooked.
  • An individual charged with managing a situation should constantly notice, attend to and initiate inclusion of others with a potential role in the situation.

A Culture of Trust and Transparency
Effective management of complex conflicts often requires rapid and open information sharing and consultation.  This process happens most effectively in units maintaining a culture of transparency and trust.  Such a culture often involves unit leadership continuing to articulate and reinforce the ethical, professional and legal standards for handling sensitive and confidential information. 

These principles alone may not ensure that every complex conflict is resolved to the satisfaction of all.  Yet they can be important building blocks for increasing the likelihood that conflicts can be resolved more effectively, while leaving in place a stronger and healthier environment.

Contacting the Ombudsman
If you or your unit is dealing with a difficult situation, or you would like to talk more about process for resolving conflict, I encourage you to reach out to me for a consultation.

Tom Lehker
University Ombudsman

Photo courtesy of simplesolutionstech07 on Flickr

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